Three Generations of Family Business

Organizations & People

 

Running a successful family business is already hard work, but keeping that business in the family is even more of a challenge. According to a report from the Harvard Business Review, only 30% of family-owned businesses last into the second generation, and only 12% remain viable into the third. There are plenty of reasons for this, including evolving family dynamics, shifts in the economy, and faltering enthusiasm about the brand as times change. 

The businesses that do survive into multigenerational growth have a lot to be proud of — not only for beating the odds, but also for servicing their communities every step of the way. That’s certainly true of these family businesses, which are some of the many that have been a part of the greater Chattanooga area for at least three generations and continue to provide for the customers who have become like family themselves.

 

By Lindsey June 

Brody siblings who own Brody Jewelers

Michael Brody, Cindy Brody Sirota, and Louis Brody (Photo by Rich Smith)

 

Brody Jewelers

Founded in 1937 

To locals, the name Brody is synonymous with fine jewelry, classic timepieces, premier elegance, and high-quality estate pieces. Located in Rossville, Brody Jewelers has been a staple of the community for more than 80 years. Louis I. Brody opened the business as the Rossville Pawn Shop in 1937. It then passed on to his son Edward “Sonny” Brody and Sonny’s wife Helen, who converted it into a jewelry store in the 1960s. Today, Brody Jewelers is owned and operated by their children: Michael Brody, Cindy Brody Sirota, and Louis Brody. 

The three siblings split duties as owners. They’ve all worked at Brody Jewelers in some capacity from as far back as they can remember. The eldest, Michael, has been there the longest. “I never really left,” he says. Middle child Cindy stepped away for 10 years and attended The Gemological Institute of America in California, where she became the first female resident graduate from the state of Tennessee. Louis, the youngest, has been there for his entire working life, only leaving to attend college. 

Tragedy struck Brody Jewelers in 2018 when Cindy’s son Brent – a fourth-generation employee of the family business – unexpectedly passed away. But the Brody legacy won’t end there; the family says that their other children will eventually step in and keep the business thriving. 

But even with future generations in charge, the Brody siblings say they’ll never stray far from their store. It’s the family way, after all. “Even if Michael and I retire, we’re still going to be coming in a couple of days a week,” Cindy says. “Just the way Mom and Dad did. We’re all going to be here. We’ll always have each other’s backs.”

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Larry Parks and Robert Parks (Photo by Rich Smith)

 

T.U. Parks Construction Company 

Founded in 1944 

T.U. Parks Construction Company is an institution in the Greater Chattanooga Area. It’s the oldest general contracting firm in the region, providing services such as design-build and construction management for commercial, industrial, and residential sectors. It’s also behind the construction and restoration of some of the most iconic structures in the community, including CHI Memorial’s surgery center addition and the renovation of the historic Read House Hotel. 

The company was founded more than 70 years ago by its namesake and sole proprietor, T.U. Parks. He later converted the business into a partnership with his two sons and son-in-law. After he passed away in 1973, his sons, C.A. “Red” and Homer Parks, transitioned it to a corporation they managed until 1987. Red and his son Larry became sole owners after that. Today, Larry Parks serves as chairman and CEO of the company, overseeing the business side of the operation. The business is now in its fourth generation, with Larry’s son Robert as a senior project manager. 

Larry cites Chattanooga’s unique entrepreneurial spirit as part of what makes the city a great home for T.U. Parks Construction Company. “Chattanooga is a big little town where your reputation still matters,” he says. The company’s sound reputation – and the longstanding commitment of many employees who have become like family – is most certainly part of its success and survival. Through the ups and downs, including the financial crisis of 2008, the business remained a vital part of the local economy and continues to build and restore the attractions that make Chattanooga worthy of its “Scenic City” nickname – which needn’t apply just to mountain views, but architectural ones, too.

“With each generation come new ideas, new solutions, and new approaches to doing the work we love to do,” says Larry. “There will always be challenges, but that’s also what makes the job so interesting and so much fun.”

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Talley Green, Myers Dickinson, Tennyson Dickinson, and Adrienne Rhodes (Photo by Emily Pérez Long)

 

Lake Winnepesaukah 

Founded in 1925 

Summer’s just not right without an amusement park trip. Luckily, Chattanoogans don’t have to travel far to get their thrill-ride fix. They have Lake Winnepesaukah – better known as Lake Winnie – right in their backyard. Located in Rossville, the park has entertained guests since its grand opening almost 100 years ago. Attractions include the Boat Chute, the oldest mill-chute water ride of its kind; the Cannon Ball, a beloved wooden roller coaster that opened in 1967; and the five-acre SoakYa water park expansion.

Carl and Minette Dixon founded Lake Winnie, which is still in the family, five generations on. Their granddaughter, Adrienne Rhodes, now runs the park alongside her daughters, Talley Green and Tennyson Dickinson. Tennyson’s son Myers is also a full-time employee. The family members have official titles at the company, but that’s more of a formality. “When you’re a family-operated amusement park, you have to be willing to chip in and do whatever’s needed on any given day,” says Tennyson. “Our overall role is to put smiles on customers’ faces.”

“Titles don’t mean much,” adds Talley. “It’s about getting the job done and making the best guest experience possible.” 

Lake Winnie enters its 96th season this year, fresh off a challenging 2020 that saw closures and delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, Lake Winnie persevered, and the family is ready to get back to regular business. Their motto this year is, “The fun is back.”

“In a world of troubles and strife and obstacles, it’s great to work at a place where our mission is to make people happy,” says Tennyson. “Where people can forget their daily worries and forget about their bills and hardships and just come for fun and pure joy.”

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Trey Douglas Leroy Bradshaw III, Dusty Bradshaw, William Benjamin Bradshaw, Gage King, and Douglas Bradshaw (Photo by Rich Smith)

 

Bea’s Restaurant 

Founded in 1950 

There’s nothing quite like a home-cooked, family-style Southern meal. But at Bea’s Restaurant on Dodds Avenue in Chattanooga, the food is just a fraction of the overall experience. The fried chicken is crisped to golden perfection, and the cobbler is as sweet as can be, but nothing’s better than the sense of community that comes through the doors. 

Bill and Beatrice “Bea” Steele opened Bea’s in 1950. It began as a lunch option for the blue-collar workers putting in time at the surrounding manufacturing plants. The plants slowly closed, but Bea’s Restaurant pushed through. Today, it’s a staple for neighborhood families and curious visitors alike. Dusty Bradshaw, the Steeles’ great-grandson, runs the business with his father, Doug. Several other family members pitch in, too; they wait on tables, serve plates of food on the restaurant’s trademark lazy Susans, and keep the family business running after five generations.

Dusty started working in the restaurant at an early age and saw it through several hurdles, including COVID-19. For the first time in 70 years, Bea’s closed its doors to the public – though it continued to feed the community via online deliveries. This year, they’re back to near-regular business, and if the lines out the door are any indication, they show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

For Dusty, being a part of his family business and providing for his community – even through uncertain times – is the joy of a lifetime. “To be able to work with my father and my children, you can’t put a monetary value on it,” he says. “It’s worth more than the money.”

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Vicki Brewer, James L. “Jim” Brewer Sr., James Brewer III, Danielle Swindell, Jessica Rossman, and Kira Brewer Headlee (Photo by Emily Pérez Long)

 

Brewer Media Group 

Founded in 1987 

Radio is a generational connective tissue – a form of media enjoyed by grandparents and grandchildren alike. For the Brewer family, it’s even more of a family stronghold. They’ve been in the radio business for more than 70 years – first in Tell City, Indiana, before coming to Chattanooga in 1986. Once known as The Chattanooga Company, they originally owned just one station, WJTT Power 94, in the city. These days, Brewer Media Group operates five radio stations, the weekly alternative publication The Pulse, and the Chattanooga Traffic Network. 

James L. “Jim” Brewer Sr. started the company with his wife Vicki and son James L. Brewer II when they bought WJTT. Jim Sr. says his son played a significant role in the growth of the company. Tragically, Jim II passed away in 2018 after a battle with cancer, but his legacy endures. His daughter, Danielle Swindell, has worked for the company for 19 years and currently serves as the national sales manager and director of corporate sponsorships. His son James Brewer III has been there for nine years and is the traffic manager. Jim and Vicki’s daughter, Kira Brewer Headlee, has been overseeing office operations for the last 20 years and day-to-day operations for the last two. She’s been with the company a total of 28 years. Her daughter Jessica Rossman works in Brewer’s accounting department. 

But according to Jim Sr., the Brewers aren’t the only ones responsible for keeping the business so family-oriented. Many of its employees have been with the company since its inception and feel like family, too. Together, they “share a sense of community commitment that is central to the local radio broadcasting interests of today,” Jim says. They also work together to deal with challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant suspending print editions of The Pulse.

Through it all, Brewer Media Group has remained strong and continues to serve its markets with diverse program formats that serve diverse audiences.

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family members working at Athens Distributing of Chattanooga

Trey White, Tommy White, Thomas White IV, and Jay Donnelly (Photo by Emily Pérez Long)

 

Athens Distributing of Chattanooga 

Founded in 1961 

Athens Distributing has been a part of the Chattanooga community since 1961, and this wine and spirits distributing business is now in its fourth generation. Howard White Sr. and John “Chink” Donnelly started Athens in 1946, and Howard’s son, Tommy White, along with John S. “Jockey” Martin, opened the Chattanooga branch. Today, Tommy’s son, Trey White, serves as president,
overseeing operations in the city.  

But the family involvement doesn’t end there. Athens Chattanooga’s executive vice president of sales, Jay Donnelly, and Trey’s son, Thomas White IV, are part of the business’s fourth generation. Other family members work at other locations and in different divisions. Together, they make Athens Distributing the reliable name brand that it is. 

Through the years, Athens has also adapted to updated alcohol regulations. When wine sales opened to grocery stores, for instance, it required major changes and was one of the biggest challenges the company ever faced. “Navigating these changes has not been without some bumps along the way, but we desire to continue the hard work of making this a successful company, just as those who came before us did so well,” says Trey. “In most situations, we have found that effective communication is key.”

With a solid family foundation at its core, Athens is primed for whatever comes next. In the meantime, Trey hopes to keep making the first, second, and third generations of his family proud. “It is a great honor to represent our family business and one that I have never taken lightly,” he says. “I strive to make Athens Distributing of Chattanooga the best that it can be every single day.”

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